Okada bets to win with fine dining and casinos

Tue May 15, 2012 7:44pm EDT
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By Farah Master

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Kazuo Okada, the Japanese billionaire engaged in a fierce legal battle with Las Vegas casino tycoon Steve Wynn, is diversifying his pachinko company with a string of his own restaurants and is negotiating to build a casino resort in South Korea.

On Tuesday, Okada opened a 25,000-square-foot fine dining complex in Hong Kong, the first step in an expansion plan that includes an Okada restaurant in Shanghai scheduled to open in September, and a dining complex in Tokyo due to open in December.

In an interview with Reuters at his new restaurant, Okada said his Universal Entertainment Corp would open five Okada restaurants in Asia next year. After that he plans to expand to major cities around the world, including New York.

"We want to be the No. 1 casino company in the world," said Okada, dressed in a dark suit and wearing a small pink and purple flower. He is also building a $2 billion casino resort in the fast-growing gambling destination of the Philippines that is due to open in 2014.

The Hong Kong restaurant and Philippines casino have been 80 percent funded by Universal, said Okada, who is chairman of the Tokyo-listed company. For future projects, he said the company is considering the support of the private investors who make up the remaining 20 percent.

Okada, whose net worth was put at $1.8 billion by Forbes this year, has been trying to diversify the group's core pachinko business - the Japanese arcade game that rakes in about $20 trillion yen (US$250 billion) annually - into entertainment and casino resorts in Asia.

He said opening hotels in jurisdictions where gambling is not yet permitted, such as Taiwan, was also a possibility.

Until February, Okada was the largest shareholder in Steve Wynn's $12 billion Wynn Resorts Ltd. He had helped bankroll Wynn's operations for more than a decade.   Continued...

Japanese billionaire Kazuo Okada and wife Takako Okada attend the opening ceremony of a dining complex in Hong Kong May 15, 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip